Great Graphic Novels for Beginners
Want to get into graphic novels?
"Comic books are for kids. And nerds," some people think. Not so. Graphic novels are a medium, not a genre. You can find stories of adventure, suspense, mystery, drama, and romance. There are stories as intricately plotted as any novel, with well-developed characters and rich settings. Graphic novels just happen to use illustrations and visuals to help tell the story.
On many forums I see people asking what graphic novels they can start with having little or no background reading them. Of course people list the most well-known titles like Alan Moore's Watchmen and Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns. There is no denying that these are the classics of the medium, dark, gritty tales of antiheroes and corruption.
But maybe you want to start out with something different. Maybe superhero comics aren't your thing. You may not have read comics since you were a kid, or you grew tired of inconsistent continuities, confusing crossovers, or clumsy dialogue. Maybe you've never picked up a comic book in your life, and you're wondering what the fuss is all about.
So here are some titles to check out if you are interested in graphic novels. They require no background knowledge. You can simply pick them up and jump right in.
BONE by Jeff Smith
Want to sink your teeth into an epic fantasy with heroic characters, fearsome creatures, prophesies, and battle scenes? Jeff Smith's BONE saga is a sprawling tale of the three Bone cousins (yes, they are Bone creatures) who enter a Valley brimming with menacing creatures and get swept up in a hero's journey with a mysterious girl named Thorn and her Gran'ma Ben. Think Lord of the Rings, but more kid-friendly and a lot funnier. The lovable characters and slapstick humor is balanced by the dark threat of the Lord of Locusts, who threatens to overrun the Valley and destroy it forever.
Don't be overwhelmed by the 1300-page tome. It's a heavy book (literally), but easily accessible to both children and adults. Smaller volumes (a series of ten) are available in color, but there is something remarkable about Smith's crisp, black and white ink drawings, capitalizing on the contrast of light and shadow. By the end, you'll be in love with Fone Bone, the red dragon, and the bumbling, quiche-loving rat creatures ("Stupid, stupid rat creatures!").
Tintin by Hergé
If you live in Europe or anywhere else in the world besides the U.S., you are probably already familiar with the globe-trotting boy reporter and his faithful dog Snowy. Tintin is not as well-known in the U.S., although you may remember the surprisingly well-done cartoon series that aired on Nickelodeon in the '90s. Now that Steven Spielberg is working on a Tintin trilogy, the series is sure to experience a boost in popularity, and rightfully so. Fans appreciate Hergé's attention to detail and ligne claire style, not to mention the hero's unfailing derring-do and trademark quiff.
Tintin has twenty-four adventures collected in single volumes and a series of anthologies. Journey with him to every continent of the world, to a mysterious meteor in the sea, and to the moon and back. He's joined by the whiskey-guzzling Captain Haddock ("Blistering Barnacles!"), the brilliant but hearing-impaired Professor Calculus, and the bumbling detectives Thompson and Thomson (identical, but no relation). They're appropriate for kids, and grown-up kids will love them too.
Runaways by Brian K. Vaughan/Adrian Alphona
Okay, so Runaways is a Marvel series, and it features cameo appearances from familiar sorts like Wolverine, Spider-Man, and Captain America. But the real stars are the title characters, a group of teens who discover that their parents are evil (literally), run away together, and must take down their parents' supervillain occult organization, The Pride. The six original members of this ragtag group also discover special gifts and powers they've inherited from their families. Their team includes an 11-year-old mutant girl with super strength, a witch, an alien who can fly and glow like the rainbow, and the daughter of time-travelers with a psychic bond with a velociraptor.
Yes, it sounds wacky, but Vaughan and Alphona quickly establish the series' unique world and mythologies. Most Marvel superheroes live on the East Coast (notably NYC), but these kids hail from Los Angeles. They take refuge at the La Brea Tar Pits, the Hollywood sign, and other notable locations. The kids eventually shed their superhero monikers (e.g. Arsenic and Old Lace, Bruiser, Sister Grimm) and act like typical teenagers who happen to fight bizarre baddies when they're not watching reruns of Friends or discovering first crushes. Vaughan captures the teen speak quite well and avoids overusing pop culture references that will date the series. If my teenage sister, who has zero interest in comics, can get hooked on this series, then anybody can. The first two volumes by the original creators are a breath of fresh air in the Marvel universe (although no superhero knowledge is necessary) and are certain to entertain teens and adults alike.
Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan/Pia Guerra
Imagine that in one second, around the entire globe, every single male organism (anything with a Y chromosome) suddenly dies from some mysterious plague. Every male except for a young man named Yorick Brown and his pet Capuchin monkey Ampersand. You'd think that it'd be a man's ultimate fantasy, being the last man on earth surrounded by only women, but then you'd be wrong. Yorick finds himself sought after by various groups and countries who fear the eventual extinction of the human species. And all he cares about is tracking down his fiancée Beth, who was last seen wandering the Australian Outback.
Y: The Last Man is collected in ten trade volumes and is currently being rereleased in deluxe hardback editions. Yorick and his companions, secret agent badass 355 and geneticist Dr. Allison Mann, must trek across a world thrown into chaos and find a way to save the species from extinction. Yorick faces all the staples of boyhood fantasies--pirates, cowboys, soldiers, spies, and Amazon warriors--except the dangers are real and the stakes are too high for him to remain a boy forever. In that sense, Y is a coming-of-age story as well as a thrilling adventure tale. Despite the grim premise of the story, it's packed with humor and a cast of well-developed, memorable characters.
Note that this series is for mature audiences only. It contains violence, explicit language, and sex/nudity.